Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Vise

I have had chronic back pain since about 1998. The diagnosis is a bulging disc and degenerative disease in the lower lumbar and sacral spine. From childhood I have also had occasional paresthesia in that area, though that was not officially diagnosed until last year, when I suffered an attack that began during the last part of my walk to the chiro’s office and continued until well after I got there. Paresthesia is irritation of or damage to a nerve that manifests as a feeling of numbness, tingling, crawling, or some other sensation, in my case an intense, burning itch that always had me scratching my buttocks, hips, and thighs with a ferocity that felt—and to any observer probably appeared—as though I were trying to dig my way to China through my own body. Every so often I also have muscle spasms in my back. These are painful to varying degrees. The most recent one happened July 3 and is the reason I’ve spent so much time in the chiro’s office this month.

The chronic back pain has taken a toll on me. Walking has been increasingly difficult. Although the visits to the chiro have greatly helped the sciatica caused by the bulging disc, nothing has really touched the pain. I have described it as feeling as though someone had clamped a vise around my lumbar spine and was using the vise to pull my spine out. This pain typically begins within a couple minutes of continuous walking and ramps steadily up until I’m forced to stop walking. A walk to the bus stop that took eight minutes when I moved to my current location now takes almost twice as long and may feature several pauses to lean myself in a standing plank position against whatever telephone poles or other sturdy vertical structures I find along the way. Prior to the beginning of my grand experiment, I had gotten to the point of a despair so great that I truly began to believe that I would soon never be able to walk again. It was a scary place to be.

So, one of the things I inferred from my chiro’s assertions about a starchless, sugarless way of eating was that I would experience a decrease in inflammation in my body, resulting in a decrease in pain. Although I’ve noticed improvement in my ability to rise and move after prolonged stillness, I was not yet able or willing to attribute any change or decrease in pain to the dietary changes I’ve made.

I had yet another chiro appointment today. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to face the walk to the bus stop. I set out anyway.

The terrain in my community is all over hills, and I have to ascend a very steep one almost right out the door. I slowly began the climb and waited for the vise to clamp and the pain to escalate. I climbed. And waited. Nothing. I kept climbing, waiting for it, waiting for it. Finally, at the top of the hill, the pain met me. It squeezed my spine, a light squeeze, as if it were actually not much interested in clamping down so much. I crept closer to the highway, hands at my waist, just above my hips. The vise still didn’t clamp. I kept going. I was actually able to notice other things, like how tight my thigh muscles were, and how I was doing protecting my left knee from being wrenched or twisted because of a misstep. And though the rest of the walk was uncomfortable and slow, the vise never clamped. By two thirds of the way on, I was sending up thanks out loud to Jesus!

This was my walk to the bus stop on a rainy day, post ovulation. The post ovulation part is important, because whatever conditions I have seem to intensify in the days post ovulation, which in the past meant that my back pain normally became more severe, and walking became more difficult at that time. And anyone with arthritis is familiar with what happens on rainy days. This walk today was easier than walks I’d taken in the days after my menses, before ovulation, when pain is generally less troublesome. I was stunned. And jazzed. And grinning like the long-lost idiot who finally found her village. I started singing.

I was ecstatic in my description of my experience when I got to the chiro’s office. The chiro was happy, too, speaking strong encouragement and inspiration to me. Unlike the despair I’d come to feel while walking, unlike the sure certainty I’d come to feel that I would one day lose the ability to walk, I was, as I told the chiro, able to see my life stretching out before me. A life where I get the joy of putting one foot in front of the other and loving it again as in times long past.

And even at the limit of my endurance for the day, the pain still never got as bad as it has in the past. I even felt well enough when I walked back into my place to wash the dishes, warm my supper, and stretch a little bit before finally sitting down. The vise never clamped.

It feels good to hope again. My heart is soaring in anticipation of the next walk, in hope that it will be at least as good as this was today. In hope that from today, the vise remains loosened, never to clamp again.

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